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Volunteer Experience: Pratishtha Kohli

For a lot of us attending university, especially a public university, acts as a major standpoint in our life because it allows us to share spaces with people from various backgrounds. While university spaces need to be made more inclusive, they offer you a chance to re-think your place in the larger society. Before coming to college, my idea about social justice was skewed and limited to the power to purchase. I saw money as a panacea and charity as the only means a privileged person in a far off location could help. However, in January 2018 when I heard about this campaign which was trying to rejuvenate public education systems through a volunteer base system, it interested my first-year self- given my inclination towards equity and a desire to learn more and I have to say that I couldn’t have even imagined what this journey with EdJustice would pan out to be like. I could start from the start but each day in a campaign that tries to not just touch but change the lives of thousands of children and teachers is way too eventful to follow a chronology. I think the beauty of a campaign like EdJustice is that it creates a space for everyone. When you want to impact the lives of people, you need everything from research to design to coordination to make things happen. The flexibility that the campaign provided me to envision, to lead, and to make it happen did not just help me develop as an individual but also gave me a sense of personal fulfillment that I had a role to play in making something meaningful happen, despite all the odds at hand. Having closely engaged with the development of programs, I think one cannot overlook the need for better-shaped programs that are more inclusive, which would also mean us demanding better, more sensibly from governments, school authorities, and civil society participants. While coming up with classroom exercises one cannot overlook the context from which the students are coming from - one that often includes heavy chores at the beginning of the day, rote memorization of books, and heightened societal stigma in their set-ups. These problems have been observed by our team in all of their visits and are reflective in official data as well which point out how only 54% of students who enroll in secondary school go to higher secondary - class 11 in Katihar, our flagship district. The enrolment rates in public high schools speak volumes for gender disparities and worsening trends especially for students from non-upper-caste backgrounds. Even though we see organizations working and data collection happening actively at the primary school level, few intervene in middle and high schools. We cannot afford to sit with a ‘One at a time’ strategy when so many young people finish schooling every year. With little idea of ‘What’ they want to do and even less idea on ‘How’ to do it. Working in set-ups with a pupil to teacher ratio of 120:1, with low hopes from the system is not easy, but it is time that we stop passing the buck. EdJustice like its cause is a work in progress, it is always revamping to suit the needs of students and aims at creating ripple effects in society. The ambition of improving public education is always going to be demanding and can ultimately happen when providers and community members come together. I am glad that early in my life I got a first-hand experience of working closely in the system and its challenges while also getting the opportunity to work on solving them. This wouldn’t have happened without the constant support and encouragement of my co-workers, also the people whom I never met but connected with virtually, and very importantly Dr. Sanjay Singh who not only inspired and guided me but also had so much belief in me at every step. Converting Apathy into Action is something that EdJustice does every day and no, feeling sympathetic or resorting to charity is not enough. We need to do more, and we need to do better, and I am excited to see how the EdJustice People’s Campaign does it as time progresses!

- Pratishtha Kohli, currently an Urban Fellow at Indian Institute for Human Settlements.

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